College Football Saturday Superlatives: Ohio State’s finish, Iowa’s goose egg and Cameron Ward

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Here are the best plays, players, moments and more from Week 4 in college football. We’ve had this week circled on the calendar for, uh, weeks because of all the ranked matchups on the slate. We watched six such showdowns and got to see 13 Top 25 teams play road games on Saturday. It was a hell of a lot of fun, even when the games weren’t close. The highlights of the day:

Game of the Week: No. 6 Ohio State 17, No. 9 Notre Dame 14. Imagine how it felt to be one of the 77,622 in attendance, anxiously standing in Notre Dame Stadium during the final minute of this thriller. That’s an experience you’re never going to forget, no matter what color you were wearing, and one of the biggest games in that venue in a long time. In an impressively tough, physical game between two legitimate top-10 teams, Ohio State proved quite a bit in its first real test of 2023.

The Buckeyes’ dramatic 15-play, 65-yard drive in the game’s final 90 seconds was seriously nerve-racking to watch, but quarterback Kyle McCord stepped up when his team needed him. Emeka Egbuka and his fellow wideouts made all the clutch plays. And Chip Trayanum, the Arizona State transfer who was supposed to be a linebacker, got to be the hero on third-and-goal with everything on the line.

This one could’ve gone Notre Dame’s way, there’s no doubt about that. Amid two failed fourth-down conversions, a missed 47-yard field goal and the whole 10-man defense thing (we’ll come back to that), there were lost opportunities. Still, the Irish acquitted themselves well in this low-scoring brawl. They’re going to win one of these kind of games this season. The Buckeyes were just one play better on Saturday night.

Offensive Player of the Week: Washington State QB Cameron Ward. Ward has taken his game to a higher level in his second season in Spokane. He was nearly unstoppable in a big-time showdown with No. 14 Oregon State, hitting 28 of 34 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-35 victory. That’s the second time Ward has led his squad to an upset against a Top-25 opponent this season.

Four games in, the former FCS transfer has thrown for 1,389 passing yards with 13 TDs and zero interceptions. We all know the Pac-12 has way too many great QBs this season, but Ward should be getting much more attention. On his best days like we saw Saturday, he’s up there with the best of them.

Defensive Player of the Week: Kentucky CB Maxwell Hairston. If you hadn’t heard about Hairston, he made a name for himself against Vanderbilt with a 29-yard interception for a touchdown in the first quarter and another 54-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter in a 45-28 win on the road. That was the first time a Wildcats defender had ever done that in program history. Not bad for a sophomore who’s in his first season as a starter.

Best comeback: Northwestern 37, Minnesota 34 (OT). This was one of those games that tried its hardest to break the win probability charts. Minnesota had a 31-10 lead and about a 97 percent chance of winning heading into the fourth quarter. Northwestern executed a flawless comeback capped by a Ben Bryant touchdown pass to A.J. Henning with 2 seconds left to force overtime. Then, after the Gophers kicked a field goal on their OT possession, Bryant needed just one play to toss a 25-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Mangieri for the win.

Heisman watch: Caleb Williams is still Caleb Williams and made a bunch of Caleb Williams plays while putting up 332 total yards and five TDs in No. 5 USC’s closer-than-expected 42-28 road win at Arizona State. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. continues to torch every team he faces and threw for 304 yards on 19-of-25 passing with four TDs and an interception in the No. 8 Huskies’ 59-32 rout of Cal. Those two feel like the front-runners at the moment.

Oregon’s Bo Nix looked determined to prove he belongs in this conversation against Colorado and put together one heck of a game, hitting 28 of 33 passes for 276 yards and four total TDs with one turnover to lead his No. 10 Ducks to a 42-6 blowout win.

Drive to 325 update: No. 7 Penn State 31, No. 24 Iowa 0. Look, the Nittany Lions are really good. The weather was not good. Iowa’s offensive production in Happy Valley was still dreadful: 76 total yards (fewest since 2017), four first downs, seven punts, six fumbles (four of them lost). Cade McNamara finished 5-for-14 through the air for 42 yards. The offense ran 33 plays and Penn State ran 97! Iowa was shut out for the first time since 2000. The Hawkeyes now need to average 26.7 points per game over the rest of the season in order to keep offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.

Worst call: Notre Dame had only 10 defenders on the field for Ohio State’s last two offensive plays at the goal line. How is that possible? Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman knew they were missing a defensive lineman but said he didn’t send him in because he didn’t want to get a substitution penalty. Well, guess where Trayanum punched in that game-winning TD?

 

Biggest backfire: Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin had a fun time last week poking the bear ahead of his showdown with Nick Saban and No. 13 Alabama. He publicly questioned whether Saban had taken away play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, which is a tactic you never see. How did that go for him? Not great. The No. 15 Rebels had a hard time finishing drives against whoever was calling the D and found the end zone just once in a 24-10 loss in Tuscaloosa.

Best takeaway: It has to be Kalen DeLoach, right? The Florida State linebacker delivered a game-changing play with this blindside blast of Clemson QB Cade Klubnik late in the third quarter and then scooped and scored from 56 yards out to tie the score.

Kansas CB Cobee Bryant had a brutal takeaway as well in a 38-27 win over BYU. Bryant flattened Cougars receiver Parker Kingston, grabbed the ball and ran off for a 21-yard score to get the Jayhawks rolling early.

 

Best takeaway, big man edition: Hawaii DT Sauce Williams is listed at 5-foot-11 and 330 pounds, and he sure can scoot, as he proved on his 40-yard return after forcing a fumble. This was extremely satisfying to watch.

Best catch: Florida WR Ricky Pearsall takes the honor. This one will probably go down as a Catch of the Year contender between the one-handed grab and the fact he finishes this play despite the hits he takes. That’s a veteran play by a dude who doesn’t mind a little contact.

There were so many more one-handed catches worth mentioning from Week 4 and quite a few instances of guys getting Mossed. Let’s start the rundown of honorable mention picks with Florida State WR Keon Coleman’s game-winner in overtime against Clemson.

Cal WR Jeremiah Hunter laid out and laid down for this touchdown grab against Washington.

And finally, Washington State WR Josh Kelly had a monster game against Oregon State with eight catches for 159 yards and a trio of TDs. Here’s his best one from Saturday.

 

Best receiving performance: USF receiver Naiem Simmons turned eight catches into a school-record 272 yards and one TD in a 42-29 win over Rice. How did he do it? Catches of 53, 51, 42, 49 and 52 yards quickly boosted that total. His quarterback, Byrum Brown, bounced back from losing to Alabama in a huge way with 435 passing yards, 82 rushing yards and three total TDs. Rice QB JT Daniels threw for 491 of the Owls’ 492 total yards in the loss.

Best pass: Let’s not be foolish and forget to mention North Carolina QB Drake Maye as a Heisman contender. He’s got the Tar Heels off to a 4-0 start and executed one of the most impressive run-pass option plays you’re going to see in a 41-24 win at Pitt. Maye took a designed run outside and decided that, instead of taking a tackle for loss, he’d fling a 7-yard pass to Kobe Paysour for a touchdown … with his left hand.

Best run: Arizona State RB Cam Skattebo staying up and making two guys miss on this 52-yard catch and run for a touchdown was quite a sight. Great play by him. Not good tackling by the Trojans. Arizona State’s comeback attempt came up short in a 42-28 loss to the No. 5 ranked team in the country.

 

Best trickeration: Louisville looked ready to take a knee and a 35-14 lead against Boston College to halftime. But coach Jeff Brohm had a trick up his sleeve: a fake kneel and sneaky handoff to Jawhar Jordan that he turned into a 42-yard gain. That run led to a touchdown two play later in the Cardinals’ 56-28 win.

If that one wasn’t funny enough for you, here’s a bold call against the team from Boulder: Oregon went fake punt with a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter and got the ball to senior defensive lineman Casey Rogers, who rumbled downfield for an 18-yard gain and a first down.

 

Best debut: Shenandoah DB Haley Van Voorhis. The junior safety became the first female non-kicker to appear in an NCAA game during the Division III Hornets’ 48-7 win over Juniata College. Van Voorhis entered in the third quarter and recorded a QB hurry on this play.

Best argument: James Madison’s staff tried to appeal to an officiating crew using photo evidence during its 45-38 win at Utah State. The refs did not love that move. Cell phone evidence is not admissible during games.

Best outfit: It looks like Syracuse coach Dino Babers opted to try out Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak during a 29-16 win over Army.

Best mascot hostilities: The Oregon Duck was not messing around before his showdown with Coach Prime. Nice job with the oversized cowboy hat and sunglasses here. He took that baseball bat and smashed a cardboard Prime Time clock on the field in pregame.

The Cincinnati Bearcat mascot agreed to go on “Big Noon Kickoff” prior to his squad’s first-ever Big 12 game and 20-6 loss to Oklahoma. How did that go? Mark Ingram absolutely destroyed him and then celebrated by doing the worm.

Best 12th Man: Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher couldn’t get off the field in time to avoid Auburn LB Eugene Asante during this 67-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Should he have tried for the tackle? Would he get fired for that? It was the only touchdown the Aggies allowed all day in a 27-10 victory.

Best ejection: “Brick, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safehouse or a relative close by. Lay low for a while.”

(Photo of Ohio State’s Chip Trayanum: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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